Automations Potential Effect on Job Displacement and Employment Stability
by Ray Kelley, SVP & Partner, Wray Executive Search Automation continues to grow throughout all aspects of the restaurant industry. While these innovations promise greater efficiency, speed, and accuracy, they also cast a shadow of uncertainty over the employment stability of restaurant workers. Let’s take a closer look at some specific areas of benefit, but also potential alarm, for restaurant workers. The Rise of Automation Technologies Automation technologies have grown throughout various aspects of the restaurant business, from the kitchen to the front of house. Automated cooking systems, robotic chefs, self-order kiosks, and AI-driven customer service chatbots are becoming commonplace. These innovations offer undeniable advantages, such as faster service, reduced errors, and streamlined operations. However, they also raise pressing questions about the fate of human workers. The Job Displacement Dilemma Kitchen Automation: One of the most significant areas of automation in restaurants is the kitchen. Automated grills, fryers, and assembly-line robots can prepare meals with precision and consistency, potentially reducing the need for traditional kitchen staff. Self-Service Kiosks: Self-order kiosks allow customers to place their orders without interacting with a human cashier. While these speed up the ordering process, it can lead to fewer cashier positions. Delivery Drones and Robots: The rise of automated delivery options, including drones and autonomous delivery robots, could replace delivery drivers in the future. AI-Powered Customer Service: Chatbots and virtual assistants are handling customer inquiries and reservations, raising concerns about the future of front-of-house roles. Job Losses vs. Efficiency Gains The automation of restaurant roles raises a central dilemma: improved efficiency versus potential job losses. Automation can undoubtedly enhance productivity and reduce operational costs. However, it also threatens the livelihoods of the many workers who rely on these jobs for income and stability. Concerns About Employment Stability Unemployment: As automation continues to advance, there is a genuine fear that many restaurant workers may face unemployment or underemployment. Vulnerable Populations: Entry-level and low-skilled workers, who often find employment in the restaurant industry, are particularly vulnerable to job displacement by automation. Training and Upskilling: Addressing these concerns may require substantial investment in training and upskilling programs to prepare workers for new roles that complement automation. Balancing Innovation and Employment Stability Finding the right balance between innovation and employment stability is a complex challenge. Here are some potential strategies: Skills Development: Invest in training and skills development programs to help workers transition to roles that complement automation, such as maintenance and oversight of automated systems. Hybrid Models: Explore hybrid models where automation enhances human capabilities rather than replacing them entirely, allowing for more creative and value-added roles. Regulatory Considerations: Policymakers may need to consider regulations that encourage responsible automation and support affected workers. Inclusivity: Ensure that the benefits of automation are shared equitably among workers, owners, and communities. While automation may have the biggest impact on part-time, or entry level workers, I think that in the long run automation will have a positive impact on employees who want to have careers in the restaurant industry. By having automation take charge of lower impact positions, this will allow employees to step up and take responsibility for higher visibility and impact positions. The effort will be on the company side to train and upskill workers where necessary, but I think in the long run, this will allow for more opportunity overall for employees.